On Thursday, March 30th, EastNewYork.com and Equity Platforms hosted the “EMPOWER ENY: Leadership Roundtable” with some of East New York’s most prolific community influencers. Included on the panel were Nikki Lucas (NYS Assemblywoman), Albert Scott (Chairman at ENY Economic Society), Franklyn Mena (Executive Director at Universe City NYC), Camille Newman (Director at LDC ENY’s Women’s Business Center, Heather Day (Program Manager at NeON), and Vernon J. (Founder of Equity Platforms, Inc.). The event marked the official launch of the EMPOWER ENY Campaign, which is aimed at bringing community members together to discuss ways to improve the neighborhood and foster a tighter sense of unity.
The event kicked off with introductions, followed by brief presentations from the various community leaders who shared information about the history of the neighborhood and highlighted some of the challenges that the community has faced. The panelists represented different areas of expertise, including local government, entrepreneurship, social services, and real estate development. One of the main themes for all participants was “social justice”.
“We should feel not only empowered but emboldened to attain social justice”, proclaimed Albert Scott. “When we talk about social justice in the context of community ownership, we see it under four main umbrellas. The main umbrella, of course, is land justice. Whether you’re owning a home or owning a home or commercial land. The second major umbrella for black wealth is business ownership. And there are some dynamic business incubators taking place within East New York and Brownsville, believe it or not. And then the other portion is what is a real particular interest is what I call the investment umbrella, followed by the last portion as health economics.”
The discussion covered a wide range of topics, including affordable housing, public safety, education, and community engagement. Panelists also shared their personal experiences of working to improve the neighborhood, offering advice on how to get involved and make a difference.
“We have some concerns in terms of just how things are being developed and efficiency, what is being developed as it relates to our health”, added Assemblywoman Nikki Lucas. “There are a lot of underlying conditions in our community, which is why indoor air quality has been a huge priority for our team. Our constituents are encouraged by positive development, although they want community leaders to remain accountable regarding overall safety.”
Another topic discussed was economic development through entrepreneurship. As the Director of the Women’s Business Center, Camille added insightful gems to the conversation. According to Camille, “Studies have shown that entrepreneurship is the best way to build wealth in communities of color. The entrepreneurs that we serve usually have revenues of $50,000 or less, but we believe that those entrepreneurs are the start of a great economic engine in the East Brooklyn community. At the Women’s Business Center, we are SBA funded research resource partners, and we do everything through funding one on one business counseling, MWB certification, and much more.”
Following up on the subject of economic empowerment, as the Program Director of NeON, Heather Day had some valuable contributions, explaining that “Justice reinvestment is one of the best strategies to put power back in the hands of the people, which includes training, education, and economic empowerment. It’s fundamental, but it’s also about building pride and celebrating all the assets and all the strengths that exist in communities like East New York.”
Underlying all of the grassroots work in the East New York neighborhood includes a strong group of non-profit organizations that act as an engine to the community’s development. When asked about how leaders can run successful social justice enterprises, as the Executive Director of Universe City, Franklyn Mena declared, “What happens is a lot of time with nonprofits is that we have tunnel vision and we have such tunnel vision that we think all of our work is on the ground, although that’s not always the case. I think revolutionizing what nonprofit work looks like not only includes the groundwork, not only is it future work, but it can also be a product. A lot of people don’t know that 30% potentially of your business as a nonprofit can actually be out of a product or out of your day to day operations that I’m just learning now and recently that gives me the opportunity to make something out of the ideas that we have come up with.”
After the panel discussion, participants had the opportunity to ask questions and share their own ideas for improving the community. Many participants expressed their concern regarding the difficulty of attaining home ownership, which led to a discovery of various local resources for first-time home buyers such as NACA – a no money down mortgage solution. A longtime resident of East New York named Larry ended the Zoom call with a fiery, yet poignant comment, “They’re building all of these buildings, but where are these people going to park? Where are all these children going to go to school? Where are these people going to shop for food? Well, what about the people? What are we going to eat? Besides development, there are many issues we need to address.”
In response to Larry’s comments, Assemblywoman Nikki Lucas pointed out that “people need to have a place to live and work. Our kids need a safe place to put their heads at night and when they are going to school. Access to job security, fresh food and business opportunities are all critical to affecting positive change, but it all starts with quality affordable housing.”
The event concluded with a call to action, encouraging participants to take the knowledge and ideas they had gained and use them to make a positive impact in the community. Some of the shared resources include:
- NeON: https://www.nyc.gov/site/neon/programs/programs.page
- Women’s Business Center: https://brooklynwomen.org/
- Universe City: https://universecity.nyc
- Assemblywoman Nikki Lucas: https://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Nikki-Lucas
- LDC East New York: https://www.ldceny.org/
Overall, the event provided an excellent opportunity for community members to come together and work towards building a better East New York neighborhood. The virtual platform allowed for a diverse group of participants to engage in the discussion and share their perspectives, making it a truly inclusive and collaborative event.
EMPOWER ENY Survey
In partnership with Local Development Corp of East New York, there is a new survey that places the power in the hands of those who actually live in the community. Covering topics from affordable housing to jobs to transportation, the survey is a critical component for the future of East New York as the results will help elected officials and community leaders make informed decisions that directly relate to needs and wants of the area’s residents, workers, and visitors.
By filling out the survey, you will become an official East New York Mover and Shaper, gaining access to exclusive EastNewYork.com events and opportunities.
To complete the survey, go to EastNewYork.com/survey.
EMPOWER ENY is powered by The People, and we need your input. If you would like to volunteer as a community coordinator for the event series, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our team members will facilitate your involvement.
If you own a business or community organization and would like to sponsor the event series, feel free to request a partnership deck by sending an email to email@example.com.
The next EMPOWER ENY event titled “Keys to Accessing Affordable Housing”, is taking place in-person on Saturday, June 24th from 12pm – 2pm at the NYPD Community Center located at 127 Pennsylvania Avenue, in Brooklyn NY.
To sign up, go to http://empower.eastny.com
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